Field to Fork, a New Way to Recruit Hunters
Pose the question, Why do you hunt? to just about any group of hunters and you are likely to get the same answers. Some will say they do it for the challenge of matching wits with a mature trophy buck. Some might answer that they enjoy the beauty and solitude they find afield. But the vast majority will answer that they do it for the meat.
It was this desire to procure organic, hormone- and additive-free red meat that struck Jamie Cook and Brian Clark of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife (KDFWR) as they sat around one day brainstorming ways to recruit new hunters. Why not capitalize on the natural foods movement that is gaining strength among urban and suburban residents? What could be more organic than wild game? With this question in mind, they set out to put together a program that emphasized wild game as a way to entice non hunters into the sport. Since deer season was in, the first class centered around deer hunting. The response was immediate and all available spots for the inaugural class filled quickly with an eclectic mix of men and women from all over the central Kentucky area.
In order to cover everything, the Department put together an extensive weekend program that basically amounted to Deer Hunting 101: What you need to know from field to table. By teaming up with a local culinary instructor, restaurant owner and avid wild game chef Mac McBride, University of Kentucky Extension Meat Specialist Dr. Gregg Rentfrow, and volunteers from the KDFWR, the class covered all aspects of deer hunting.
Stretching over three days, the Friday evening class was a thorough one, covering topics ranging from weapon choice, to whitetail biology and behavior, stand placement, hunting methods, public vs. private land, hunting laws, tele check (KY has a phone or on line system for checking in large game) and numerous other deer-hunting-related topics. At the mid class break, Chef McBride and crew supplied several venison dishes as an introduction to wild game. For many of the participants, this was their first opportunity to taste any type of game meat. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
Day two began bright and early on Saturday morning. The class met at a local Wildlife Management Area where they were introduced to blood trailing. The trails were set up to lead to donated, freshly killed deer. Once all of the class participants had worked out the trail and located the deer, a demonstration was given covering both traditional and gutless methods of field dressing.
The field dressed deer were then taken to a station set up for butchering and processing. As Dr. Rentfrow butchered, participants were able to get hands on with the deer, see how the muscle groups fit together, and learn how to break down the deer into meal-sized portions. As the cuts came off the carcass, Chef McBride went over cooking techniques that best suited each muscle group.
To make the recipes hit home, a massive spread of venison dishes and local produce, sponsored by the Kentucky Dept. of Ag's Kentucky Proud program, was served up for lunch. As the class members sampled the food, they were able to question Chef McBride on preparation techniques for their favorites.
The afternoon portion of the class covered the Hunter Safety program and range time with various weapons. At a cost of $55 per person, class participants ended the day with a Hunter's Safety Education orange card, a Kentucky hunting license and a deer tag, enabling them to legally take two deer in the state.
Realizing that many of these new hunters would not have access to private land to hunt on, volunteers from the KDFWR spent Sunday taking those that wanted to go on mentored hunts to a nearby state-owned Wildlife Management Area using Department-supplied crossbows. Clark reports that, six of the eight mentor-mentee pairs saw deer, and most of the six had deer within range but weren't able to pull the crossbow trigger due to brush, getting busted, etc. All great experiences for first-time hunters!
After the weekend was complete, I asked one of the participants, Paul McCurdy, what his overall impression was. I feel like I am capable of hunting deer on my own now. The hunt Sunday sort of explained some of the stuff we had gone over in Friday night's class. I am still a little unsure about exactly where to hunt, but time and experience should help with that, said McCurdy. I broke the news to Paul that many of us long time hunters still struggle with the same issues. Then I asked what he felt was the best part of the class, There was this awesome, I mean awesome lunch! came the reply.
Even though the class portion is complete, the folks at KDFWR plan to keep up with the participants to help with any questions they might have as the season progresses. According to Clark, additional mentored hunts will be offered and an end-of-season social, complete with food and culinary tips from McBride, will be held. Chef McBride is also working on a cook book of venison recipes for each participant.
Initiatives like the Field to Fork program are just part of an overall push to recruit as many new hunters into the sport as possible. Other programs offered by the KDFWR include college hunting clubs that match new hunters with more experienced classmates in a mentor program, more traditional hunting presentations in urban and suburban settings and printed training material for new hunters.